The last few years have been very rough for the dogs of our family and on me. Three years ago our Basset Hound went through what can best be called a doggie spinal fusion operation at the Purdue University Veterinary clinic, complete with six months of in-home physical therapy administered by my husband and me. This was followed by the loss of my doggie best friend and canine soul mate Babe in November 2009 and most recently the loss of my sweet boy and special friend Dutch in February 2011.
Losing Babe and Dutch so close to each other was particularly difficult for me. Babe was somewhat of a rescue dog, having had two other homes before bounding into my household, but over the twelve years that we shared I often thought that it was really she who rescued me. She was my faithful companion, four-legged best friend, attentive confidante, hiking partner, and all around “best dog in the entire universe”, which I told her often. I sang special songs to her with the word “Babe” in the lyrics, and she greeted me every morning the same way, by shoving her big blocky head next to mine and giving me sloppy doggie kisses. She met me at the front door every day from November 1997 through November 2009, with the same wagging tail and happy doggie smile that only a labrador retriever can deliver. I loved to lay on the floor in front of her, our foreheads touching, my hand stroking her silky black face and ears, in total harmony. Babe and I shared a love that transcended species, where I forgot that she would not live as long as I needed her to, and her death came almost as a shock to me. I had not let myself envision a world without her.
When Babe died I threw myself into loving Dutch, my sweet, wacky boy who was originally my Mom’s dog. He became my walking buddy, slept next to me on the bed when my husband was working, became my velcro dog. I sang the song Brickhouse to him but replaced Brickhouse with Dutchdog. I laid my head on his muscular doggie shoulder, and stroked his speckled, silky coat. I played with his large goofy ears that were big enough to cover his eyes. He made his place on the sofa next to me whenever I spent time in the living room, on the corner piece of our sectional, and laid his head on my arm each evening. Dutch was my dog for five years after Mom’s death, and losing him was as much of a shock to me as losing Babe. Dutch was such a constant presence in my life, whether he was my doggie “brother” or my own companion, and the last two months have been very difficult. I retreated inside of myself for weeks. I felt lost, and useless, and not sure why I should even get out of bed each day. I curled up in bed, under the blanket that I had used to warm and comfort my skinny sick boy, placed his picture on my nightstand, and sobbed, night after night.
Two months later I am in a better place. Although I miss my sweet Dutchboy and love him as much as I did on the snowy day that he passed into heaven, I have stopped expecting him to greet me at the door with his toy Hedgie in his mouth, have stopped crying every time something reminds me of him, and have stopped browsing the German Shorthaired Pointer rescue page in a desperate attempt to “replace” him. Some of this progress has come from the passing of time, some has come from long hours spent crying, talking, and grieving, and some of my progress has come from a small black pup that I have not met but already love.
I can count the number of years on one hand that I have not had a Labrador Retriever in my life, so the decision to bring a new labrador puppy into our family was not so much of a decision as it was an assumption, a given, our destiny. Being a lifelong lover of the breed, and knowing exactly what role the puppy would take in our family (beloved pet, hunting dog, and possibly rural search and rescue dog), we began to research breeders to find someone with our same values, love, and committment to these amazing dogs. Thanks to the internet and the recommendation of friends of friends, we located the perfect breeder, a hobby breeder who focuses on the health of the dogs and only breeds two litters a year. We filled out the appropriate forms, and waited for the email to tell us that they would be thrilled to place one of their puppies with our family.
It seemed to take years for the email to arrive, but in reality we received a response the morning after we sent our application. The breeder’s response was that she would love to place one of her beloved puppies in our home. A litter was due in three weeks, and she thought that there would be seven pups, all with the shiny, silky black coats that we preferred. The puppy due date countdown was on!
Over the next three weeks I researched the development of puppies in the womb, read about their growth, and tried to visualize what was happening to our pup each week of his development. I looked at the breeder’s website daily, looked at photos of the parents, read about their hunting trial successes, their championship titles, their lineage. I even Googled our pup’s ancestors, going back as far as his great-great grandparents. Of course, in the dog world, those dogs are probably only ten years old, but it felt good to see our boy’s family tree, since he was still nestled inside his momma’s womb. I desperately wished for a book of “what to expect when your labrador bitch is expecting” as I was devouring information like a pregnant woman, even though our baby was coming via “surrogate”.
Just as picking a breed did not require any thought, neither did choosing a name. Earlier that year, as we sat side by side watching the TV show Sons of Anarchy like we did every Tuesday, an epiphany came to me: we would name our next dog Jackson, and call him Jax. Having grown up with a father who hunts, I was raised to believe that the best name for a dog had just one syllable. We had Dutch, Jake, Beau, and it made training easy because their names were quick and sharp and easy to enunciate. When I called for Dutch to come inside, a quick, sharp “Dutch” elicited an immediate response, versus the sing-song “Maggie” that our lovable but stubborn Basset ignores on a daily basis. Jax was the perfect name for a male dog, and it had meaning to us because of our Tuesday night ritual of watching the Sons on tv. Our son would be Jax, although we hoped the “anarchy” part would not be part of our puppy’s “vocabulary”.
Between the Westminster Kennel Club Show and my research of our Jax’s ancestors, I realized we would also need a great AKC name. We tossed out ideas based on the TV show, and some of “our” songs, things that related to the name Jax and ideas that had no connection to the name. It was my birthday party and a karaoke machine that led me to Jax’s full AKC name: We’re Going to Jackson.
I cannot recall why, when, or how, but my husband and I have taken the song “Jackson” by Johnny and June Carter Cash and have developed somewhat of a karaoke tradition of singing the song together. It has nothing to do with our marriage, since it involves the man taking a hound-dog style trip to Jackson to “mess around”. It talks about the fire going out, but our fire is still going strong, spreading and getting hotter, not remotely close to going out. It is a confrontational song about a failing relationship, and we are best friends, head over heels in love, and very happy in our four-year relationship and our year and a half old marriage. But the song is just plain fun, and permits goofing around, and is easy to sing, especially since I have three notes in my range according to my husband. So on my birthday, we sang the song, drunkenly dedicated it to our “unborn puppy Jackson”, and an AKC name was born.
As I did with Babe and Dutch, I am looking forward to singing this song to our pup, laying on the floor next to him, making up doggie lyrics to go with the regular words, and calling him our little “pepper sprout” after some of the lyrics of the song. After all, he is a different dog, so he needs his own song. He will never replace Babe or Dutch, but he is certainly going to have the same amount of love that they received. I have a feeling I am going to call him my “sweet boy” and tell him that he is the “best dog in the universe”, and when I do so, I will think of my furry babies that came before him. I will think of them often when I wrap my arms around him and snuggle my face into his silky black fur. We will find new trails to hike, new ways to snuggle, and he will think of new ways to get into trouble that never crossed their minds. Right now he is four weeks old and should be coming home to us in a month if all goes as planned. I think about how we will take him from his Mom and his band of brothers, and how it is our duty to love him with our whole hearts and to take care of him for the rest of his life. The countdown is really on now. In a few weeks we are going to Jackson, and that’s a fact.